Friday, July 12, 2013

Telling My Daughter She's Fat

© Dorothy Dean

Projects like "Bodies" by Dorothy Dean have given me the perspective I need to embrace the stretch marks and pouch of my post-partum body. Projects like this give us all a raw look at what it's like to be human in true human form without airbrushing, at what the average tummy really looks like and help us face the reality of the unfair standards we hold ourselves against. Thanks to images like this, I now embrace and respect my motherhood badges of honor and, for once, I feel comfortable in my own skin. Motherhood has changed my body forever and I'm not only okay with that, I'm proud of it. Somehow, though, that still doesn't translate to entirely loving myself.

Something needs to change. I have struggled with weight and self-criticism my entire life, I remember calling myself fat as early as 8 years old. I know I learned my inner voice from those around me. I know my body image was perpetuated by adults who commented on my "chunkiness" or remarked, "Now you're too skinny" when I lost weight. My body image has been such a constant struggle, that it has somehow formed part of my identity. Shaming myself comes just as easily and automatically as looking in the mirror before I leave the house.

Body image, inner voice, body shaming, losing weight, weight, issues, woman
Not a good way to treat yourself
I catch myself constantly remarking on how fat I look, or that I'm a cow or how terrible my clothes look on me right now. I find myself harshly critiquing every video or photo of myself. The things I tell myself in my own head are far worse than what I utter out loud or what I could post here; I am so harsh and cruel to myself that if I said these things to any other woman I'm sure she'd break down in torrential tears.

Today, I weigh in at 227 lbs, which is obese by any standard. More than just the number, I don't have the energy I need and I can feel the toll it's taking on my bones, my health and my emotions. It's not a healthy body weight for me, physically or emotionally and almost anyone would agree that the healthy choice is to lose the weight through lifestyle changes that will be permanent.

I'm once again working on losing weight; 13 months post partum and I'm about half way back to pre-baby weight and size, but I plan on taking it a little further to get back to my comfortable weight of 165 lbs. At 5'6" with a large bone structure, 165 looks pretty good on me and I still feel like "me" with all my curves. I want to be healthy and I am taking the steps to achieve that goal. That doesn't mean I have to shame myself about it. I can work on my health while still viewing my body in a positive light, right? 

Especially now that Little Bean is mimicking everything I do and say, I have grown more conscious of how I treat myself and talk about myself around her. I now have to consciously work to reverse that horribly critical voice in my head so Little Bean doesn't pick up the same voice in her head. I want my daughter to grow up healthy, with a love for physical activity and a lifestyle that keeps her healthy and leads to enjoyed longevity, but I don't want her to feel shame and disdain for her own body as motivation to achieve that.
This should never turn into...

The final turning point came this morning, when I realized that every single morning, Little Bean has been stepping on the scale (like I do), she even gets upset when we skip that step. No 13 month old should be habitually stepping on the scale like that (sure, she doesn't know she's checking her weight, but the habit is there). It doesn't help that health professionals, family, friends and perfect strangers have frequently commented on her low weight her entire life, she has been repeatedly weighed and had her weight tied to praise on many occasions. She's in 
the 3rd percentile for height and weight, which is 
actually normal for babies in our family.

I don't want my daughter to grow up with the same body image issues I have nor do I want her to grow up with issues about being too small; I don't want her to have body image issues at all. I don't want her to have to be convinced she looks great by multiple people (I have suffered from slight body dysmorphia in the past and it took therapy and being faced with picture after picture to convince me that I wasn't the fat cow I saw in the mirror). I certainly don't want her to seek validation in others for her self worth. I am guilty of all of those and so 
much more; it's reasonable to assume that if I continue 
my behavior, she will learn it. 

Lesson Learned
So the change? Telling myself "Good morning, beautiful!" the same way I greet her (which alternates between "beautiful," "smarty," "adventurer," and several other positive traits she already embodies). If I want my daughter to see herself the way I see her, I'm going to have to start casting myself in the same light. My daughter will take her cues from me and I better make sure they're positive ones. Also, the scale is going under the sink for weekly weigh-ins, solely to mark my progress instead of daily weight-shaming.

My daughter deserves better and I have to give myself better in order to give her what she deserves.

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